February, 2013

Feb 13

The Dressmaker,by Kate Alcott

The Dressmaker

The tragic sinking of RMS Titanic in the early hours of the morning of 15th April 1912, with the loss of 1,503 passengers and crew, is an event which continues to fascinate and 2012 saw the centenary of the Titanic tragedy being marked with many touching, commemorative events across the globe. It is then, little wonder, that this historical event continues to inspire authors, documentary and film makers over and over again.

With her sixth novel The Dressmaker author Kate Alcott (pen name of Patricia O’Brien) wanted to tell the ‘other’ side of the Titanic tragedy: the story of the aftermath and what happened to the survivors. It is an intriguing perspective of a well-known event and is a fascinating read because of that. Already a New York Times Bestseller, the novel is published in the UK at the end of this month.

The Dressmaker centres around Tess Collins, a young maid who dreams of being a dressmaker. On the docks at Southampton, she has a chance encounter with renowned couturier  Lady Lucile Duff Gordon, who is about to board Titanic with her husband and sister. Overhearing that Lady Duff Gordon is in need of a maid, Tess makes an impulsive decision and joins the Duff Gordon’s on their voyage to New York, hoping that, once there, Lady Duff Gordon will help to turn her dressmaking dreams into reality .

While including reference to many well-known protagonists of the Titanic disaster, and covering the actual sinking with real pathos, Alcott moves the action on quickly to the survivors on the Carpathia and to the focal point of this novel – what happened in Lady Duff Gordon’s lifeboat? Did she and her husband refuse to go back for survivors? Did they bribe the occupants of their lifeboat to protect themselves and if so, were they justified in doing so? It is this moral dilemma which sits at the heart of the following Titanic Disaster Hearings in Washington which Alcott covers with compelling, dramatic scenes.

Tess finds herself thrown into the middle of the court proceedings, and her loyalties to her employer are tested to the limit. Lady Duff Gordon’s unpredictable temperament doesn’t help to endear her to Tess and, despite her promise that she can help Tess achieve her dream of being a successful dressmaker, Tess soon regrets ever getting involved with Lady Duff Gordon and begins to mistrust her and her motives.

In addition to writing in the real individuals of this event (including the ‘unsinkable Molly Brown, Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay), Alcott adds many fictional characters into the mix, including two very different love interests for Tess and a wonderfully written press reporter Pinky Wade. All serve to add another interesting dimension to the plot and the narrative and remind us that this is not just a novel about a well-known disaster, but is also a novel about human relationships, trust, loyalty and ambition.

At its heart, The Dressmaker reflects on the split-second decisions we make which can change our lives dramatically. It is pacy, well-written, full of drama, atmosphere and dilemma and is sure to fascinate anyone who is interested in the Titanic as well as anyone who enjoys quality historical fiction.

The Dressmaker is published by Sphere and is available from Monday, 25th February.

Visit Kate’s Facebook page for more updates.

Feb 13

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed



At the age of twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s rapid death from cancer, her family grew apart and her marriage soon crumbled. With seemingly nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk eleven-hundred miles of the west coast of America – from the Mojave Desert, through California and Oregon, and into Washington state – and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking and the journey was nothing more than a line on a map. But it held a promise – a promise of piecing together a life that lay in ruins at her feet. Strayed’s account captures the agonies – both physical and mental – of her incredible journey; how it maddened and terrified her, and how, ultimately, it healed her. Wild is a brutal memoir of survival, grief and redemption: a searing portrayal of a life at its lowest ebb and its highest tide.


I always know a book is special when I read it in two days. From the intriguing walking boot with the pink laces on the cover and the gripping description on the back cover of Wild, I knew it was a book which was going to be hard to put down. Of course, there was the other factor: the subject matter being very close to my heart, having, like the author, lost my mum to cancer when I was in my early twenties. This wasn’t going to be an easy read.

Half afraid of the emotions Cheryl Strayed’s words were going to stir within me, I sat down and started to read. I was hooked immediately. For two days I ignored my family and felt as though I walked every step of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with the author. Yes, it is that powerful.

This is a brilliantly written memoir which takes an incredible experience and, in the safe hands of an extremely talented writer, allows the reader to follow that experience and journey with her. Strayed doesn’t hold back. She shares the deepest, darkest moments from this period of her life, not only talking about the harrowing circumstances of her mother’s death, but how this caused the rest of her life to fall apart as she spirals into a destructive cycle of heroin use and casual relationships. Ultimately, the experience leads to the breakdown of her marriage and the decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail – alone.


From terrifying encounters with bulls, bears and snakes, to peaceful moments of quiet, heart-wrenching reflection, to the physical challenge of lifting her monstrous backpack, to meeting other hikers on the trail who become both her inspiration and her friends, this is a memoir which moves at pace and keeps the reader turning the page. Although it is an extremely personal, private story, Wild never feels like naval-gazing, or preaching, as so many memoirs can and, like any good story – real or imagined – you are always rooting for the central character.

Wild touches on many aspects of life – relationships, marriage, grief, being in the wilderness – and readers have been drawn to, and moved, by Cheryl’s experiences for many different reasons. Undoubtedly, one of her most famous ‘fans’ is Oprah Winfrey who, after reading the book, was so moved that she decided to re-start her book club. With Oprah’s endorsement, the book soared to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed for 9 weeks. Wild is currently being published in 30 countries worldwide.

Yes, I cried like a child, but there are also moments of gentle humour and gritty determination in Wild which made me laugh and smile. This is a book you don’t want to end, but when it does, you simply cannot help but stand up and applaud Cheryl Strayed, the bereaved daughter, for reaching the end of her incredible journey, and Cheryl Strayed, the writer, for typing ‘The End’.


Cheryl Strayed is the author of Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (which will be published in the UK and Ireland in May 2013) and the novel Torch. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Wild was selected as the first book choice in Oprah’s Bookclub 2.0 and was a number one New York Times bestseller. It is now available in Ireland and the UK from all good bookshops. See www.cherylstrayed.com for more information and for a fascinating trailer for the book, narrated by the author.

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